Greenvale Vineyard ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

We kicked off the tasting with the 2008 Rosecliff Pinot Gris. Like all Greevnale’s wines, the Pinot Gris is estate-grown and these vines are about 10 years old.  The color is a medium yellow-gold, darker and richer than many of the whites I’ve encountered here in New England.  The nose is soft with light notes of honey.  Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the result is a crisp wine that starts cleanly and finishes on subtle notes of green apple.  There’s a nice balance of acid that works well with the tangy slightly sourness of the green apple for a refreshing experience overall.

2007 Chardonnay The Chardonnay, as opposed to the Chardonnay Reserve, is produced from the younger Chardonnay vines, and aged in a combination of French Oak (52%) and Stainless Steel (48%).  The color is a medium yellow, and the nose is soft and creamy with very light floral notes and just a hint of vanilla.  In the mouth the wine is really lovely, soft, smooth and creamy on the front with a light touch of acid on the finish providing a nice balance.  Light citrus notes, primarily lemon, play with notes of creamy butter and vanilla for a rich, satisfying experience.  This will pair very well with a wide variety of foods, but also stand up on it’s own.  Definitely one of the stars of Greenvale’s current line-up.

2007 Chardonnay Select. The Chardonnay Select is made from older Chardonnay vines, planted in 1983.  It’s 100% oak aged, but in older French oak barrels to ensure a softer, more subtle oaking.  The color, while still falling within the medium yellow range, is lighter than the previous two wines, and the nose is earthy with hints of grass.  In the mouth, the wine, while still rich, is much sharper than the Chardonnay.  There are notes of cream and vanilla which indicate it’s moving toward that lushness I found in the Chardonnay, but it’s not there yet.  The citrus notes, again primarily lemon, are stronger in this one as well, although I also detected notes of grass which I didn’t pick up in the Chardonnay.   The acid is also much stronger in the Select than it was in the Chardonnay, and somewhat overpowers the finish.   Given 6-9 months, this will be a really beautiful  wine, but it’s not quite there yet.  That being said, it was educating to taste it now, particularly juxtaposed with the Chardonnay, and be able to see the potential in the wine.  If you’re looking to start a wine collection, I would definitely add this to list of wines to pick up now.

2008 Chardonnay Select.  While this wine is not yet available for sale (although I believe it will be soon), Kristen did have it available for tasting.  Like the 2007 Chardonnay Select, this is produced from the older vines and aged for 9 months in the older French Oak barrels.  Another very interesting contrast to the previous two wines.  The color is deeper and more golden.  The nose is soft, deep and fruity with light citrus notes.  In the mouth, the wine is still young; strong notes of grapefruit and a somewhat strong acid finish combine to produce just a touch of bitterness on the end.  The wine hasn’t yet developed much of the creamy vanilla butteriness I found in the other two Chardonnay’s, but there is a smoothness on the front of the wine that speaks to it’s potential.  Given another year or so in the bottle, I believe this wine will mature and soften into a lovely wine.

2008 Vidal Blanc Grown from Greenvale’s oldest vines, this is another very nice wine, and while not as strong as the Chardonnay, definitely one of the brighter stars on the current Greenvale wine list.  The color is a pale yellow;  the nose is lush and soft with rich notes of apricot.   It has a bit of the vidal lushness that you find so often in the sweeter dessert wines, but the effect isn’t as concentrated.  In the mouth, the wine is more complex than I anticipated with soft, subtle notes of pear on the front which develop into the slight tartness of green apple in the mid-back range of the tongue.  The wine has a nice balance of acid which gives it a really crisp finish, but it never completely loses the faint sweetness from the pear.  This will pair well with seafood, chicken, salads, and spicier foods such as Thai.

Some of Greenvale's vineyards; the Sakonnet River is in the background

The last of the whites was the Skipping Stone White.  A blend of 90% Cayuga and 10% Vidal, from the first encounter this wine was not anything I was expecting.  The color, while still in the yellow rather than straw category, is the lightest of all the whites.   The nose, which I anticipated to be perhaps slightly floral or have citrus notes, smelled like nothing so much as grape jelly.  Yes, you read that right – if I hadn’t been told this was a Cayuga and Vidal blend, the nose would have led me to believe there were Concord grapes here.  The Concord flavors carried over into the mouth as well.  The sweetest of all the whites (although it is still a dry wine), the wine is very juicy on the front with lush notes of grape jelly.  The finish is dry although the acid isn’t as strong in this wine as it was in several of the previous wines.  Kristen told me that this was Greenvale’s most popular wine, and I’m not surprised.  Those who like their wines a bit sweeter will really like this, and I found the Concord grape notes to be quite pleasant once I got over my initial surprise.   Don’t be put off by my Concord-grape description, this is an eminently drinkable wine and will appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers.

The one red available on the menu that afternoon was the 2005 Elms Meritage. A blend of all three of Greenvale’s estate grown red grapes, the Meritage is 60% Cabernet Franc, 38% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The vines are some of their younger ones ranging between 11 and 14 years old.  In addition to the initial aging in French Oak, Greenvale also bottle ages all their reds for an additional 2-3 years.  The nose has that very distinctive New England “twang” or tanginess that I’ve come to know and love.  I mentioned it to Kristen, who agreed, and we spent a delightful few minutes trying to adequately describe it.  I likened it to the tang of salt air in the Fall; she countered with “chalky granite” which I also get.  The word that we eventually came to is flinty, that smell you get from wet rocky soil after a hard rain…

I’m still working on the description.

Back to the wine…  In the mouth the wine is a little like Alice Through the Looking Glass, everything was the opposite of what I expected.  The predominant notes I picked up were pepper and cherry, but the pepper is on the front and the cherry on the finish.  It shook things up in a rather delightful way.  The pepper, while strong, is not overpowering and hits you with a nice sharp kick of heat in the front before really opening up in the mouth.  That initial kick of heat quickly settles down to a warm glow throughout the mouth at which point the fruit starts to pull through.  The finish is smooth with notes of just-ripe cherries.  This wine would be best paired with stronger, heartier meats and cheeses, and Kristen mentioned that when paired with a strong, creamy cheese like a Blue Cheese, the pepper settles down considerably.

Greenvale is also close to releasing their 2006 Cabernet Franc.  All of their wines are produced in limited quantities and that combined with the 2-3 year bottle aging for the reds means they often sell out of their reds well before the next vintage is ready for release.  I’ll definitely be watching their website and planning a return visit once the Cab Franc is released.

Greenvale Vineyard ~ Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

My week’s vacation found me pretty much all over the New England/Northeastern map.  A couple of days traversing the back roads of Connecticut, finishing up the Connecticut Wine Trail, a day in the Hudson River Valley in New York, and two days in Maine.  And, of course, lunch and wine in Newport.

My first visit to Newport was last summer with my erstwhile wine-trail-buddy, Christy.  Completely on a whim, we had hopped in the car and headed east one Saturday afternoon, planning on visiting the three wineries in the Newport area.  Unfortunately the drive took slightly longer than planned and the crowds at Newport Vineyards slowed us down somewhat, so we were only able to fit in two of the three wineries that afternoon.  And if I remember correctly, we squeaked in for the last tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards by the absolute skin of our teeth.  I hadn’t intended to let an entire year pass before I made it back to the third and last winery in the area, Greenvale Vineyards.

But it has actually been a year, almost to the day, since Christy and I made that first trek out to Newport.  I had returned to Newport in December to tour the “cottages” all decked out in their Christmas finery, but I was with my cousins and the schedule was tight as it was, so no side trips that day.

The day turned out to be picture-perfect.  A leisurely two-hour drive from Hartford put me in Newport just about lunch-time.   First, a stroll down America’s Cup avenue with beautiful views of the harbor and ocean on my right and the shops on my left…  Then a stop at the Barking Crab for a wonderful lobster salad BLT for lunch, heavy on the lobster, light on the mayo – just the way I like it…   Finally finished up with a quick stop in a few of the local shops on the way back to the car and it was time to head to the winery.

Greenvale Vineyards is about 6 miles slightly northeast of Newport in Portsmouth.  The farm has been in the Parker family since 1863 operating primarily as a dairy farm until the later 20th century.  Nancy Parker Wilson, Greenvale’s General Manager, is a 5th-generation Parker, and her mother, Nancy Knowles Parker is publisher of three local wine publications, the New England Wine Gazette, the Finger Lakes Wine Gazette, and the Virginia Wine Gazette.

The Parker estate sits along the banks of the Sakonnet River with vineyards running along the slopes up from the river banks.  Greenvale planted their first vines in 1982 and now have 24 acres of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vidal Blanc and Cayuga and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec.  Yes, you read that right, Malbec.  I was surprised as well, not imagining that Malbec would do well in the colder winters and shorter growing seasons of New England.  However, the Newport area is blessed with a micro-climate that is similar to the fields of northern France, as Kristen, my lovely host for the afternoon, informed me.  In addition to the Newport micro-climate, the terroir, slope and drainage of the Greenvale fields are also conducive to growing both Malbec and Merlot.

Speaking of my host, Kristen, she is one of the true gems of Greenvale.  Relaxed, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about wines in general and Greenvale wines in particular, she really made the visit.  As I pulled in another couple were just leaving, and so I had the winery – and Kristen – to myself.  It wasn’t just that she was welcoming, it was more that she was completely comfortable with what she’s doing – she really loves her job and it shows.  She didn’t just pour a tasting, she accompanied me throughout.  We took some time to talk about each wine; she told me her thoughts and was genuinely interested in mine.

Greenvale's Tasting Room is a bright, open, airy space. Kristen, one of the highlights of my visit, is on the right.

Granted, I am often visiting wineries on weekends when things are busy, but so often the staff sort of parrots the tasting notes and then walks away, or doesn’t seem too interested in what you might be picking up in the wines.  I can imagine it could be uncomfortable and awkward, particularly if you are the winemaker, to hear people talk about your wines.   And everyone I’ve met has been very friendly and welcoming.  It’s just that Kristen makes you feel like you’re sitting around talking to a buddy about wine, and that she’d be happy to sit there as long as you wanted to talk about wine – and it made for a very fun afternoon.

All of Greenvale’s wines are estate-grown.  They rent tank space from Newport Vineyards a few miles down the road, but all the grapes are grown on the Greenvale farmland on the banks of the Sakonnet River.  The Tasting Room is in a charming renovated horse stables set about 1/4 mile back from the main road, in the midst of the vineyards.  The long driveway takes you through vineyards and pastures and past a beautiful large New England farmhouse currently occupied by Greenvale’s owner, Nancy Knowles Parker.  At the time it was built, 1865, it was the largest home on the island.  Even though it was later dwarfed by the palatial “cottages” of the Vanderbilts, Astors and others, it is a lovely house and a perfect centerpiece for the estate.

Greenvale currently produces seven wines, five whites and two reds.  Two of the wines, the Rosecliff Pinot Gris and the Elms Meritage are named for two of the mansions owned by the Newport Historical Preservation Society and feature pictures of the homes on their labels.  A portion of the proceeds of each wine goes to the Preservation Society to help with the upkeep of the historic mansions of Newport.

Greenvale is open year-round: April – December Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  Winter hours (January-March) are Monday-Saturday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.  Public tours are offered every day at 2:00, and private tours can be arranged with advance notice.   Greenvale often hosts live music and special events, and the site is available for private parties and rentals, check the website for details.

Greenvale Vineyards
582 Wapping Road
Portsmouth, RI 02871

Coming Tuesday, September 24th: Greenvale’s wines…

The Wines of Langworthy Farm

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Sitting on the deck overlooking the vineyards - a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon

I had intended to get this posted yesterday but, as usual, life intervened.  Given my track record of late, though, 24 hours delay is rather timely…

I spent a lovely hour with Joe Sharry and six of his wines that beautiful Saturday afternoon.   I had my choice of five of the 10 main wines, and then for an additional $2 each could add either of the limited production wines to my tasting.  After careful perusal of the menu, I opted for 2 whites and 3 reds and Tom encouraged me to also try the red Cuvee, a suggestion I found impossible to resist.

My first selection was the Shelter Harbor Chardonnay.  Pale gold color with a soft, lightly citrus nose.  In the mouth, the wine is dry and buttery with soft tannins on the finish.  The predominant note was grapefruit, but it was light and subtle.  Served chilled, the wine is crisp and refreshing and would work well with seafood, grilled vegetable dishes, or on its own.  A very nice wine.

My next choice was the Winnapaug White Merlot.  I discovered white merlots a few years ago, and have become a real fan, generally preferring them to their red counterpart.  I like the heartier character of the white merlot (as compared to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc) and the often earthy character I find in them.  I also don’t see a lot of them, at least not among local vintners, and so always make a point of trying them when I do.  Langworthy Farm’s White Merlot didn’t wow me, but it also didn’t disappoint.  It’s a pleasant wine, peachy in color with a pretty, slightly floral nose.  In the mouth, however, the wine is more earthy with notes of grass and green pepper, and there’s a slight bitterness on the end that might soften with aging or perhaps more breathing time.  The most interesting thing I found about the wine is that there were no dominant notes throughout – I found myself having to search for the individual notes.  That’s not to say it had no flavor, just that no one note shone through.

With that I rinsed my glass and turned to the reds, bypassing Langworthy Farm’s two Merlots and heading straight to the Charlestown Cabernet Franc.  Aged for 14 months in a combination of French and American oak, the result was one of my favorite of all the wines I tasted that morning.  A lovely purple color with a soft nose with rich notes of cherry, the wine has is dry and earthy, with light notes of pepper and cherry and tobacco on the finish.  In addition to the tobacco notes, the oak provides a light smokiness which I found very interesting.  The Charlestown Cab Franc recently won a medal in the Finger Lakes Regional Wine Competition.

I know many people who aren’t fans of Cabernet Franc, finding the grape and the wines, pale imitators of their more robust Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir cousins.  I, as regular readers of Vino Verve will attest, have become a big fan.  Particularly here in the Northeast, the grapes seem to grow very well and produce some really nice, robust reds.  Not as “big” as a California or European Cabernet Sauvignon, but strong enough to stand up to hearty foods and cold winter evenings.   Langworthy Farm’s Cabernet Franc definitely made it into my collection of Cabernet Francs.

After the Cabernet Franc, I moved on to the Napatree Cabernet Sauvignon.   Aged for more than 12 months in French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the better of it’s kind I’ve found among southern New England wineries.  Like other local wineries, Langworthy Farms brings in their grapes from Long Island; I’m sure it is no surprise to anyone that ours is not a climate conducive to growing Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is a lovely garnet color with a rich plummy nose.  I really loved the nose on this wine.  In the mouth the wine is very smooth; I was a bit surprised at how smooth, as so many of the “bigger” reds I’ve tried here in the northeast have felt “young.”  The wine is lush and rich with strong earthy, grassy notes and notes of leather and smoke from the oak.  I also detected light notes of blackberry which contributed to the overall richness of the wine.  Very nice wine, and one of the better Cabernet Sauvignon’s I’ve had here in Southern New England.

I finished up the main tasting with the Pawcatuck River Red, a stainless-steel fermented blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Not a bad wine, and people who like slightly sweeter, lighter wines should really enjoy this.  But I found it almost too clean, particularly coming after the Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  I missed the smokiness and the earthiness I found in the other two wines.  Garnet colored, with a fruity nose, the Pawcatuck River Red is a fruitier wine with strong notes of cherry and blackberry.   The tasting notes indicate this would be great with pasta and salads, and for a lighter summer red it’s not bad.  However, compared to the other two I found it to be not as complex and interesting.  Perhaps if I had tasted that one first before either the Cab Franc or the Cab Sauvignon, I would have been more impressed.  Still, despite my preference for the other wines, it’s a nice overall table wine, and I think more people will prefer this one to the Cabernet Franc.

Because I was the only guest that morning, I was able to chat with Joe throughout the tasting, learning about the history of the winery, the house/bed & breakfast, and the surrounding area.  Because I usually can only hit the wine trail on the weekends, it’s not often that I have the luxury of having the winemaker all to myself.  So at the end of the tasting, when Joe suggested I try to the Ward 3 Cuvee, his limited production red, I certainly wasn’t going to turn him down.

The Cuvee is a Bordeaux-blend of the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was fascinating to taste this immediately after the Pawcatuck River Red, a blend of the same grapes.  Darker in color, more of a dark garnet, with a strong earthy nose, this is a lovely wine.  Both rich and subtle the flavors and notes of the wine blend together beautifully.  The predominant notes are earthy, almost loamy.  I detected notes of tobacco and leather, and the finish brings forth notes of warm spice, cumin among others.  There are also very soft, subtle fruit notes that provide a depth and richness that opens up the earthiness beautifully.  I also found the wine built over time – each subsequent taste layering on the previous one.  A very impressive wine.

That concluded my tasting for the morning.  There are an additional five wines, 3 whites and 2 reds, on the main tasting menu and a limited production Reserve Chardonnay that I did not have the opportunity to try.  However, there is at least one winery in Southeastern Connecticut still on my list, so I think a return trip to Langworthy Farms to try the rest of the menu will be on the schedule soon.

Langworthy Farm Winery ~ Westerley, Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I know it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post anything; it’s also been a while since I’ve been able to hit the win(e)ding roads.  I woke up the other day wondering where this summer – and all my plans – had gone to.

My last wine trip was about a month ago, a beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday.  I’m still trying to finish the entire Connecticut wine trail, only 6 more to go, but as I looked at my maps that morning, I decided I’d take a short detour and head first into Westerley, Rhode Island and the Langworthy Farm Winery before turning back home and picking up one or two of the wineries I’ve yet to visit in the southeastern corner of my state.

Westerley, the home of the Langworthy Farm Winery, lies just over the Connecticut/Rhode Island border.  While it’s the first winery on the Coastal Wine Trail of New England which runs through Rhode Island and Massachusetts and ends at the tip of Cape Cod, Langworthy is actually closer to the Stonington wineries, Jonathan Edwards, Stonington Vineyards, and Salterwater Farms vineyards, than it is to the Newport wineries that follow it on the Coastal Wine Trail.  Because of their proximity, you could do an easy day combining two, three or four of the wineries that fall along the border.

My original plan when I left the house that morning was to start with Langworthy Farm Winery, loop back to Stonington for a visit to Saltwater Farm Winery, and then stop at Gales Ferry and the Holmberg Orchards and Winery on the way home.   A touch of sunstroke (probably shouldn’t have sat on the porch at Langworthy as long as I did) and lunch that didn’t sit too well intervened, and I wound up skipping Holmberg Orchards, but not before sampling some very nice wines at both Langworthy and Saltwater.

Langworthy Farm, owned by Joe & Gail Sharry, is a small property about 1/2 a mile from the coastline and beaches on the homesite of Samuel Ward, one of the first governors of Rhode Island.  The farm include a small vineyard, the winery and a bed and breakfast which is housed in a charming mid-19th-century Victorian farmhouse.  The Sharry’s have lived in Rhode Island since 1993, first in the Providence area and then moving to Westerley in 1999, when they bought the Langworthy Farms property.  They had been making wines for years and after successfully launching the Bed and Breakfast, decided to begin their own winery.  They planted their first vines in 2002 and the winery opened to the public in 2005.

The winery and Tasting Room sits in a small cottage-like structure in the yard behind the main house.  The Tasting Room itself is small but charming, with a few bistro-style bar tables and chairs and a long wine bar running along the back wall.   Windows over the bar allow you to see through to the pressing and storage areas behind the tasting room.

To make up for the relatively small tasting room, the Sharrys have built a long deck running the length of the cottage with tables, chairs and lovely views of the vineyard and surrounding farms.  The property is located on the corner of two fairly busy state roads, and while not an interstate, there is still a fair amount of traffic you’ll see and hear as you relax and enjoy the wines.

On that particular Saturday I arrived shortly after they opened, and pretty much had the place to myself.  Joe Sharry was my host for the wine tasting, and we spent a very pleasant hour sampling wines, talking about the history of the property and surrounding area, and enjoying the sunshine.  Langworthy Farms currently produces 12 wines, six whites and six reds, including a limited production Chardonnay and Bordeaux-blend red.   A tasting will run you $6 and includes your choice of five of the 10 wines, with tastings of the limited production wines being an additional $2 each.   I was by myself that day, so I didn’t have the luxury of splitting the tasting menu with a wine-trail buddy and sampling them all, so I settled on two whites and three reds, and Joe kindly added a tasting of the Ward 3 Cuvee, the limited production red, at the end of the tasting.

More on the wines themselves on Thursday…

Langworthy Farm Winery
308 Shore Road
Westerley, Rhode Island 02891

Opening Day

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

May 1st marks the official start of wine season here in Connecticut.  The Connecticut Farm Wineries’ 2010 Passport program kicked off with the release of the new passports on Saturday.   The passport includes pages for each Connecticut Farm Winery that is open to the public; as you visit each winery, have the corresponding page in the passport stamped.   At the end of the season (early November), turn in your passport for a chance to win one of two 10-day trips to Europe.

While a few wineries won’t open until June or July, most of Connecticut’s 30 wineries are now open for the season, with many offering weekday as well as weekend hours.  Several wineries are also gearing up for special spring events and festivals which can be a great kick-off for your own Win(e)ding Road adventures:

May 8-9:  Barrel Tasting @ Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen, CT

May 15-16:    Barrel Tasting @ Hopkins Vineyards, New Preston, CT

May 15:   Barrel Tasting @ Miranda Vineyards, Goshen, CT

June 5-6:  Jonathan Edwards Winery Spring Festival, North Stonington, CT

June 19-20:   Haight-Brown’s Festival on the Farm, Litchfield, CT

Outside of Connecticut, the Coastal Wine Trail of Southeastern New England, which includes 9 wineries and extends 170 miles along both the Rhode Island and Nantucket Sound, from the Rhode Island/Connecticut border up into Cape Code, launched their passport program in February, which will run until December 31st.  Collect stamps from all 9 wineries and turn in your passport for a chance to win a Cruise to the Bahamas.

After stops at the final few wineries I’ve yet to visit in Connecticut, Rhode Island and the Coastal Wine Trail are next on the list.  Coastline drives under blue skies, the lush greenery of ripening vineyards and farmlands, a chance to discover new wines, and seafood dinners in Cape Code or Newport – that’s what summer’s all about…  Can’t wait!

Better Know an AVA ~ Newport, Rhode Island

Waterfront, Newport Rhode Island

Waterfront, Newport Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I fell in love with Newport on the drive down to the waterfront.  Our plan, if you can call the itinerary we hastily constructed over brunch a mere five hours before a plan, included spending the afternoon touring local wineries and then stopping in Newport for dinner on the waterfront.  At the time all I knew of Newport was that it was seafront town with legendary mansions, the “summer cottages” built by the New York elite at the turn of the 20th century.

Newport was founded in 1639 by a group of eight men after a political falling out with Anne Hutchinson and her followers.  The town was settled on the south side of Aquidneck Island, near the mouth of Narragansett Bay, and throughout the 17th and 18th century the town and its citizens grew prosperous from both the whaling industry and the slave trade.  During the Revolutionary War, French troops under the command of General Rochambeau first landed in America at Newport, and the town served as the French base of operations for the duration of the war.  Today you’ll still see references to Rochambeau throughout the area, and at least one vineyard, Newport Vineyards, has named a wine in his honor.  By the mid-19th century the town was becoming a summer destination for wealthy Americans, including families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors who built the homes that today comprise the Newport Mansions Historic District.

Newport, Rhode Island, Thames Street Shopping District / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

A variety of pubs and restaurants can be found in the side streets off of the main shopping district along Thames Street.

As we drove in though, we weren’t thinking about the mansions, and the Newport we discovered is a charming seaside town with a shoreline shopping and restaurant district that manages to retain the flavor of its New England seaport past without being kitschy.  The downtown waterfront area comprises one of three historic districts within Newport’s boundaries and includes one of the largest concentrations of colonial-era homes left in the country, a charming shopping district which runs along Thames street, and a wide variety of restaurants lining the waterfront.

We parked in one of the lots off of Thames Street and strolled down the brick-paved street, window shopping our way over to Bowen’s Wharf and The Landing restaurant.  Dinner was excellent; we were able to snag seats on the upstairs porch with great views of the water and the “what felt like thousands of” sailboats moored in the harbor.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what Christy had for dinner, but I haven’t forgotten the Lobster Mornay I ordered – delicious! – pasta baked in a rich cheese and cream sauce with nice big chunks of fresh lobster.  Yum!  We lingered over dinner, and as we walked back up Thames street to the car, we discovered that Newport also has a very vibrant nightlife with both bars and restaurants filled to capacity throughout downtown.

The Landing Restaurant, Bowen's Wharf.  Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

The Landing Restaurant, Bowen's Wharf. Photo Courtesy of Christy Sherard

Facing a 2-2.5 hour drive home we decided to skip the bars, grab the car and drive past the mansions on our way out of town.  What didn’t occur to us, but probably should have, is that they are all surrounded by tall (very tall) fences and hedges.  Thinking about it now, I realize of course they have hedges – I’m sure the last thing the Vanderbilts came to Newport for was to mingle with the locals…   What I later learned was that we would have done better if we had walked back to the car along the waterfront as that would have taken us past a large group of historic colonial-era homes.  Not as opulent as the mansions, but equally interesting.  Ah well, just another reason to go back…

What makes Newport noteworthy from a locapour-point-of-view is its location in the heart of the Southeastern New England AVA and the Coastal Wine Trail, making it the perfect base of operations for a long weekend exploring southern New England wine country by day while enjoying the town by night.  The Coastal Wine Trail includes eight wineries stretching along the Rhode Island/Southern Massachusetts coastline from the Langworthy Farms Winery at the Connecticut/Rhode Island border to the Truro Winery on Cape Cod.  But the remaining six wineries are all clustered in the general vicinity of Newport.   And if that were not enough, each Fall the Preservation Society of Newport County hosts the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, allowing you to experience everything Newport has to offer all in one place.

Newport is approximately 3.5 hours from New York, 90 minutes from Boston, and 2.5 hours from Hartford.

Sakonnet Vineyards ~ Little Compton, Rhode Island

Sakonnet Vineyards, LIttle Compton, RI / Photo: Marguerite BarrettMarguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

I had to laugh at myself as I reached into the pile of notes taken during my Win(e)ding Road adventures over the past few months to pick the winery I’d feature in today’s post.  When I first started on this journey, I was, at best, an occasional contributor, fearing I’d never have enough material to meet a regular posting schedule.  Silly me…  I currently have enough notes to produce posts through early December.  And I still haven’t finished the entire Connecticut Wine Trail…

But the notes – and memory – I pulled out today take me back to that beautiful Saturday afternoon in early August when Christy and I took an impulsive road trip to Newport.  We left late, having only decided on Newport over brunch, and as a result, we pulled into Sakonnet Vineyards with 30 seconds to spare before last call (the tasting room closes at 6, and the last round of tastings is at 5:30).  If truth be told, we probably just missed last call, but the young lady at the register took pity on us and sold us two tastings just under the wire, for which we were cravenly grateful.

Sakonnet Vineyards, Little Compton, RI / Photo:Marguerite BarrettSakonnet Vineyards, named after nearby Sakonnet River, was the first post-prohibition Rhode Island winery.  Founded in 1975 by Jim & Lolly Mitchell, Sakonnet released their first vintage in 1976.   The Mitchells later sold the vineyards and winery to New Yorkers Earl and Susan Samson, who have developed both the wines and the winery into a destination spot for Rhode Island wine.  They currently have 50 acres under cultivation, growing Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Vidal Blanc and produce more than 30,000 cases annually.  They sell many of their wines through the winery and will ship orders providing state laws permit direct-from-winery or out of state shipments.  Sakonnet wines can also be found in package stores and on restaurant lists throughout Newport County and Rhode Island.

Sakonnet Vineyards / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

The winery and grounds are charming.  The path up from the parking area takes you through a large grassy yard with modern-art sculptures set amid the trees and picnic tables.  Wildflowers blanket the lawn in front of the winery, and bistro tables and chairs are set up under the trees in the front yard and on the back patio for guests who wish to relax and enjoy their wine outside.

The tasting room feels like a large, comfortable pub; a very large rectangular bar, which could easily hold 30+ people, dominates the room.  A large wooden chalkboard sign hanging on the back wall serves as the price list, and the winery staff moves easily through the center of the bar area, pouring tastings or glasses of wine, clearing up, and chatting with the guests.  In addition to tastings and wine sales, Sakonnet also conducts winery tours twice a day.

Sakonnet Vineyards Tasting Room / Photo: Marguerite Barrett

Because we arrived so late in the day – and thanks again to the staff member who took pity on us and sold us the last two tickets for that day’s tastings – we really didn’t have time to linger.   We were given the tasting menu, which includes eight whites, five reds, and three dessert wines, and asked to select up to six wines.   We’ve become old hands at coordinating selections, so it didn’t take us long to make our selections and between us we were able to sample ten of Sakonnet’s sixteen wines.

First up, the whites beginning with the 2008 Vidal Blanc…

Continues on Tuesday, October 27th.

Sakonnet Vineyards
162 West Main Road
Little Compton, Rhode Island 02387
Hours: October – December  11:00 – 5:00, (last call 4:30) seven days a week.  January – March, 11:00 – 5:00 Thursday-Sunday.  On April 1st, they reopen seven days a week.  Winery tours are conducted each day at noon and 3pm